In the past week, the number of COVID-19 infection cases in Nepal has continued to rise, including a huge influx of positive cases among migrant workers returning to Nepal from foreign countries. An estimated 800,000 migrant workers are returning home from places such as the Middle East and India, the fourth-most COVID-19 affected country in the world.
According to the World Bank, Nepali migrant workers sent home $8.64 billion in 2019, almost a third of Nepal's GDP. Public health officials warn that the return of Nepali migrants, if mismanaged, could lead to an exponential spread of the coronavirus in the country and loss of jobs could threaten the already unstable economy.
Christie Getman, Mercy Corps Nepal Country Director explains:
"Thousands of Nepali workers who lost their jobs due to the spread of COVID-19 and resulting lockdowns are now returning home with empty pockets and no idea of how they will support their families. Exhaustion, fear and panic are mingled with any joy at a reunion as families welcome back their husbands and sons but are unsure now how to make ends meet. Some communities are afraid to welcome home their own members; crowds at the border crossings, camps, and buses are contributing to high rates of transmission of COVID cases, and generating stigmas around the health and safety of returnees.
"Local authorities and service agencies are overwhelmed by the need to conduct COVID testing and management of quarantine campsites for those returning home. Many of the quarantine centers are crowded and lack basic facilities and health services. Mercy Corps is supporting the quarantine camps in four districts, including one of the key hot spot areas where many migrants are entering, with non-food distribution items such as soap, gloves and hand sanitizer.
"The effects of the global pandemic are startling and have come suddenly with the compounding factor of this migration crisis. Where before their labor overseas allowed them to send funds home to support their extended families, now they are coming home in need of support themselves. We must ensure that the communities of Nepal are able to protect themselves both against COVID-19 and forestall sliding further into poverty. Without international support to Nepali communities, we could see decades of development progress unravel in mere months."
Mercy Corps has worked in Nepal since 2005 where our work has focused on building inclusive and empowered communities where Nepalis are able to thrive with equitable economic and social opportunities.